29th Georgia Regiment at Camp Wilson near Savannah, GA

Berrien County, GA sent forth in the Civil War two companies of men known as the Berrien Minute Men.  In the early months of the war, the Campfires of the Berrien Minute Men  made along the Georgia coast, at BrunswickSapelo Island, and Darien, GA.  By early 1862 The Berrien Minute Men,  having gotten “regulated” into the 29th Georgia Infantry Regiment ,  were sent to Camp Wilson, near Savannah. Some companies of the 29th Regiment had arrived earlier;  Bryant Gainey, of the Alapaha Guards, died of pneumonia at Camp Wilson on Christmas Eve, 1861.

Camp Wilson had been established more than a year prior to the arrival of the Berrien Minute Men. Other Regiments encamped there were the 25th Regiment, 27th Regiment, and 31st Regiment.

The camp was located two or three  miles below Savannah, on White Bluff Road some distance beyond the Atlantic & Georgia Railroad [Atlantic & Gulf?]. White Bluff Road was the Shell road which was then an extension of Whitaker Street.  Camp Wilson was two miles from Camp Lawton and one mile from the soon to be established Camp Tatnall.

Isaac Gordon Bradwell, a soldier of the 31st Georgia Regiment, described  Camp Wilson as a large, level field.  It had room enough for four regiments and their equipment, officers horses, a parade ground, and a place for religious meetings and services.

The locale of Camp Wilson was said to be beautiful but, at least in the earlier days, soldiers found life there quite hard. Private Bradwell wrote in a memoir,

We had not been in these camps many days before we were invaded by measles the dread enemy of all new soldiers, and many of our men died or were rendered unfit for further service. Other diseases thinned our ranks, and for a while few recruits came to take their places. We were under very strict discipline all the time, but some men disregarded the military regulations and suffered the consequences…” 

Of camp food, Bradwell wrote,

The rations were ample, and consisted of flour, corn meal, and bacon. To these afterwards were added, rice, pickled beef, peas, sugar, coffee, sometimes vegetables, and always hard-tack. This was a kind of cracker prepared for the army sometime previous to the outbreak of the war, and it was as hard as wood. No salt, shortening, soda, or other leven whatever was used in its preparation, and it could be eaten only by those who had good sound teeth; but we found out later that it could be soaked with hot water and grease in an oven and be made quite palatable. In its original state, I suppose it would keep indefinitely in any climate. Each cracker was about six inches in diameter and about an inch thick. When broken with a hatchet, or other instrument, the edges of the fragments were shiny and showed it solid composition.

Some soldiers thought the camp provisions were less than satisfactory.   Lieutenant Theodorick W. Montfort, of the 25th Georgia Regiment, in a letter from Camp Wilson to his wife  wrote on January 14, 1861 : “We have poor beef & fresh shoat meat cost us 18 cts per lb.” Montfort requested food be sent from home, “some back bones, spare-ribs, sausages, butter & eggs…,”  assuring his wife that the Confederate government would pay the freight on such shipments.

Soldiers could purchase their own food, but prices were high. Soldiers supplemented their Army rations as best they could. Lieutenant Montfort’s letters from Camp Wilson reveal that one food available to the soldiers there was shad, a delectable fish that runs in the Savannah river delta and other rivers of coastal Georgia from late December to late March. The Shad season was just getting underway when the Berrien Minute Men arrived at Camp Wilson in the winter of 1861-62.  (In a court case concerning shad fishing on the Ocmulgee River, the attorney for the defense was Thaddeus G. Holt,  who also served as the first Superior Court judge in Lowndes County, GA). Shad were also the subject of a diary entry written in early 1862 by  John Thomas Whately, an Englishman conscript with the 13th Georgia Regiment who was stationed at the camps around Savannah:

I had the good fortune of coming on two shad which were made mine by paying $1.25. While on my way home through the streets of Savannah, I was teased nearly to death about my fine shad. After we had arrived in camps and partaken of supper, I and my friend H_ went to Capt. Hill’s tent and W_ was not there. I went back to the fire, and was trying to think where my friend W_ could be. While I was thus engaged in thinking, I heard a kind of smacking of lips in the direction of a small tent off to the left: I walked up and what a busy crowd! There were my friends who had teased me, busily engaged in completing the destruction of one of my shad. I walked in just time enough to get a nice piece and the last piece of my devoured shad. We laughed it off and each one of us retired to our respective tents. [Continuing the following day,] I arrose this morning at the tap of the drum, and after I had answered my name and washed my face, I partook heartily of my remaining shad, who was now without a mate as the other had been unceremoniously devoured by the devilish mouths of my friends last night.

(Whatley later deserted, joined the Union Army, served with the 3rd Maryland Cavalry, then deserted again)

On January 1, 1862 in a letter to the Rome Courier, Thomas J. Perry of the Berry Infantry, 29th Georgia Regiment, wrote:

The Federal fleet keeps at a respectful distance, though it is thought that Gen. Sherman will be forced to make a forward movement soon. Ten or twelve of his large war steamers can be seen occasionally, near some of the Islands, but they never stay at one place long at a time. Gen. Lee is in the city to-day. Of course his mission is not generally known.

Perhaps Lieutenant Perry was unaware that the Federals had occupied Tybee Island on November 24, 1861 after it was abandoned by the Confederates.  Furthermore, the Federals were busily landing men and materiel’ at the Martello tower on Tybee, and secretly preparing for the siege of Fort Pulaski.

Martello Tower, a relic of the Spanish exploration of America, was the landing place for all Federal supplies brought on to Tybee Island in advance of the siege of Fort Pulaski.

Martello Tower, a relic of the Spanish exploration of America, was the landing place for all Federal supplies brought on to Tybee Island in advance of the siege of Fort Pulaski.

Recalling events which occurred at Camp Wilson just about the time of the arrival of the Berrien Minute Men in January, 1862, Private Bradwell wrote,

“A little incident which happened while we were here served to break the monotony of camp life very effectually for a short while. At midnight,, when all well-behaved soldiers, except those on guard, were sound asleep, the long roll, that never-to-be-forgotten rattle that wakes a soldier to do or die, was sounded. The voice of our orderly sergeant was heard calling out “Fall in! Fall in!” In the darkness and confusion, we grabbed our clothes and got into them as quickly as possible, and seizing our guns, we took our place in ranks. While this was going on, some of our men were so dazed by the suddenness of this rude awakening that they acted like madmen. One fellow snatched up a blanket for his trousers, but could not get into it. Our old French bandmaster rushed up and down the street, shouting all the time, “Where de capitan? Where de capitan? I die by de Capitan!” We were soon trotted off to the parade ground to take our place in the ranks of the regiment there drawn up, to meet the enemy we thought. Casting our eyes in every direction, we could not see the flashing of the enemy’s guns or hear any noise of battle. Here we stood for quite a while in uncertainty, when finally Colonel Phillips appeared. Walking slowly down the line, he asked each orderly sergeant as he passed whether all the men were present, and to send all absentees up to his headquarters the next morning at 8 o’clock. We were then marched back to our quarters and dismissed for the night. The next morning at daybreak the delinquents stepped into ranks to answer their names, ignorant of had happened during the night. There was quiet a delegation from each company to march up to headquarters that morning to receive, as they thought, a very severe penalty for their misconduct. Our good old colonel stood up before his tent and lectured the men, while others stood armed grinning and laughing at their plight; but to the surprise and joy of the guilty, he dismissed them all without punishment after they had promised him never to run away from camp again.”

Union forces had captured Tybee Island on November 24, 1861, and the men at Camp Wilson were taking measures for the defense of the city. A soldier at Camp Wilson in February, 1862, described their work:

…we are…now engaged in throwing up batteries at different points and in cutting down trees on all the roads leading from the coast to Savannah, that is not across them but every tree on each of the road to the swamp – the object of this is to prevent the Yankees from flanking us on either side with their artillery or cavalry, but compell them to keep the road, by this means they can bring but few men into action at any one time and with our Batteries we can sweep the roads – the cause of this unusual excitement is daily increase of the Yankee Fleet on our Coast.

Despite the proximity of the Federal forces, in some ways the familiar routines continued within the line of defenses ringing Savannah. While at Camp Wilson, soldiers of the 29th Georgia Regiment complained that the Savannah post office would not allow the men in service to mail or receive letters until after noon, prioritizing morning mail for the benefit of civilians.

Daily Morning News
Savannah, GA
January 8, 1862

       Mr. Editor: I desire a place for the benefit of the soldiers and their friends who are here in defence of this city.
      Why cannot soldiers receive communications through the post office as soon as the citizens here? By order of the postmaster, at 12 M. is as soon as they can receive or transmit any communication through this office, while citizens receive their mail matter by 10 A. M. Besides, we are threatened that upon a requisition to change this order from a colonel of a regiment, 2 P.M. for up-country soldiers will be as soon as the mail will be delivered at office, for no regimental box will be rented, but the mail matter will be thrown into the general delivery.
      Soldiers that have abandoned the pleasures and comforts of their homes – have borne the fatigues and fortunes of the camp – yea, and of the field, certainly are entitled to equal courtesies with citizens. Further, soldiers DEMAND of civilians equal rights, equal privileges. We are here in Savannah for its defence -for the defence of Georgia – for the maintenance of the Constitution of the Southern Confederacy – for the protection of women and children, property, freedom of opinion, and every thing that freemen hold sacred and dear| For this, though soldiers, yea, privates, are we to be ordered to stand aside, while courtesies are shewn to citizen civilians. We own much, and will pay, occasion offering, to the citizens (especially the women) of Savannah for kindness to our sick brethren in arms; but we have left our loved and dear ones at home, from whom a letter is an angel’s voice against temptations and vices of camp – as sweet, soft music to the anguished soul – as savory ointment to the wounded spirit – and yet, when calling for this the only true solace a soldier has for his labors, he is met with “Wait till 12 M., or you shall not receive your mail matter before 2 P. M.,” an hour that were a man’s wife dying, and wishing to receive her last breathing sigh, ‘twould be too late to get to her death bed, by army regulations properly made at headquarters here.
Citizens of Savannah, cannot you remedy this? If this office will not pay for a sufficient number of clerks to arrange business sooner, is there no patriotic man who will take the position and relieve this burden on any citizen (if it be one.)
      Soldiers will complain, and we think properly.

W. B. Fordum
Private Berry Infantry
29th Reg. Ga. Volunteers
Camp Wilson

Men of the 29th Georgia Regiment also organized for religious services. Lieutenant Thomas J. Perry, of the Berry Infantry reported from Camp Wilson on January 1, 1862:

     Last Sabbath a week ago, we organized a Sabbath school in our Regiment and appointed the Rev. Mr. Harroll Superintendent, and Thoms. J. Perry Secretary and Libarian. We have built us a Bush Arbor, in the rear of our camps, about 200 yards distant. We have also agreed to hold prayer meeting every Tuesday and Thursday nights, and have preaching every Sabbath at 11 A.M., 3 P.M., and again at night, and have invited the other two Regiments to join us. Quite a number of Col. Phillip’s Regiment have accepted the invitation, and gone to work with a hearty good will.
      Prof. P. H. Mell preached for us last Sabbath at 11 A. M., and again at 3 P. M., and at night gave us a talk upon the subject of prayer.

But, Lieutenant Perry went on to report, “Sin and wickedness prevails…”

To be continued…Regimental Feud at Camp Wilson Near Savannah, GA

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Judge Holt and the Fish-Grass Case

It is said that Judge Thaddeus Goode Holt presided over the first session of the Superior Court of Lowndes County, GA in 1825, convened at the home of Sion Hall, and where Levi J. Knight served as foreman of the Grand Jury.

In Macon, the Honorable Thaddeus G. Holt  went into law practice with his brother-in-law, Allen Fleming, Esquire. A case of note was the Fish-Grass case, concerning the fishing for shad on the Ocmulgee River.

American Shad.

American Shad.

In The bench and bar of Georgia: memoirs and sketches, with an appendix, containing a court roll from 1790 to 1857, etc, Volume 2, Steven Frank Miller tells a story of the Fish-Grass case in which Thaddeus G. Holt and Allen Fleming represented defendants in the Superior Court of Twiggs County:

A little circumstance may be here related as occurring in 1832, or thereabout…

A well-known citizen of Macon, considerably advanced in years and of great wealth, had retained Messrs. Shorter and Gordon as standing counsel. The litigation in which he was engaged was quite extensive, and some of it very curious. Among other possessions he owned land on opposite sides of the Ocmulgee, and had resolved to permit no fishing on his property, except by his leave. In the shad-season, several poor men residing in Bibb crossed over, fastened their canoes to the Twiggs side, and threw out their nets for fish in the river. To warm themselves, they kindled a fire on the bank, burned pine-knots, and probably increased their comfort by adding a few sticks of other wood to the flame. This was the only ” breaking the plaintiff’s close and treading down his grass” for which his counsel were instructed to bring an action in Twiggs Superior Court, because it was for a trespass on the realty. The defendants employed a gentleman* [Thaddeus G. Holt] who had just retired from the bench of the Southern circuit, and his partner† [Allen Fleming] in the practice, whose modesty alone forced him afterward from the bar. The trial came on:  the plaintiff, trembling with bodily infirmities, yet resolute, appeared in court with his title-papers, scowling vengeance on the poor fishermen who had dared to trample on his rights,— “the grass aforesaid.”

The evidence showed a legal trespass of a very harmless character. Mr. Gordon argued the case for the plaintiff by stating the law, and maintaining that because the plaintiff was rich it was no reason why justice should be denied where a plain case of damage had been made out; for the law presumed damage whenever a trespass was committed. The effort was up-hill, a heavy strain to counsel, and the jury looked as if they had no disposition to encourage him by nods or smiles of approbation as he dwelt on the strong points of his argument.  After Mr. Gordon closed, the junior counsel of the defendants launched forth in a vein of goodhumored yet convulsive ridicule, and blowed the case so completely that the jury in five minutes returned a verdict for the defendants. Whereupon the plaintiff instantly paid the cost and entered an appeal, declaring that he would “give it to the rascals next time.” While the appeal was pending in the grass-fish case, Mr. Gordon found it inconvenient to attend Twiggs court, and the action was transferred into the hands of a gentleman‡ [John A. Cuthbert] who, as an advocate, (a former Representative in Congress,) evinced a high order of talent and very refined and uniformly-courteous address. His speech for the plaintiff was calmly logical, and was a fair specimen of Westminster deduction from small premises. The ex-judge, who was behind none of his compeers in blandness of manner, then touched the spark to the magazine of fun in the case, and away it exploded, causing much suppressed laughter, even at the expense of Mr. Gordon, who was accused of deserting his large practice in the court rather than appear in so pitiful a case or seeming to offend his rich client by a refusal,—a case so unequal, so much power on the one side and so much weakness on the other, as to remind one of a whale making war upon a minnow, if nature ever permitted such contests; a case where a rich man grudged a few straggling fish in a public highway (for all rivers in Georgia were such) to the poor families who looked to it for their daily support. The special jury readily gave a concurring verdict for the defendants. A motion was made for a new trial, on which a rule nisi was granted, and taken to the Convention of Judges, who advised a dismissal of the rule. Thus terminated the case,

* Hon. Thaddeus G. Holt, now of the city of Macon.

†Allen Fleming, Esq., then of Marion, but who for the last eight or ten years has been the Agent of the Marine and Fire Insurance Bank at Griffin.

‡John A. Cuthbert, Esq., then editor of the Federal Union, now a resident of Mobile, Alabama, and late judge of the county court.

 

Additional notes on Judge Thaddeus G. Holt:
His father, Thaddeus Holt, served for a short time in the state legislature and as a lieutenant colonel in the militia during the War of 1812. He participated in several duels during his life and was eventually murdered in October of 1813.